“Emerging Signs of Spring” — recent Times of Trenton Article

Brave Skunk Cabbage in March, Bowman's

Brave Skunk Cabbage in March, Bowman’s

My NJWILDBEAUTY readers know I am always avid for signs of the coming season, no matter what it may be — including winter.

Rich Rein of US 1 (Business) Newspaper, published my account of being impatient for the spare beauties, –especially the true sculptural form of trees–, of that approaching season.

At the same time, The Times of Trenton kindly accepted my article on the importance of prolonged cold for the full health of wild creatures.

Last week, The Times presented the story I’d titled “Where is Spring?”  They honored me with the title of Guest Columnist, and again blessed my story with a handsome photograph by fine artist Michael Mancuso, who is masquerading as a journalist.

Salamander in hand, early April 2015, by Michael Mancuso of the Times of Trenton

Salamander in hand, early April 2015, by Michael Mancuso of the Times of Trenton

“Emerging Signs of Spring”, Guest Columnist, Carolyn Foote Edelmann

 

This year, not even naturalists can find spring.

We have been taught that the season arrives with the vernal equinox, when day and night are virtually equal; and that equinox leads to lengthening sunlight. Longer days, we have. But where is spring?

Each naturalist has his or her own proof of spring.

For one, it is the blooming of witch hazel. Good, because last night I saw a witch hazel tree in Lawrence in full, brassy bloom. They can blossom in December and January. Does blooming witch hazel make a spring? .

For many home gardeners, spring means snowdrops, which can pop through January drifts. Last week’s snowdrops at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton were up, but they looked frail and drained, as though their journey through snow and ice had sapped them of all energy.

For many, spring means the bird-like chirping of tiny frogs called peepers. A colleague at work heard both peepers and wood frogs in Hopewell a week ago Friday. Although I know well where to look and listen, I have not heard a single trill. Peepers do not begin their incessant chorus until it’s been above freezing for at least three nights. Which it hasn’t.

March 27, Jenn Rogers, our merry Mercer County naturalist, led a troupe of brave souls out into dusk and darkness at Hopewell’s St. Michaels Farm Preserve. Rogers and confreres had set out on an “Owl Prowl.” Not an owl was heard nor seen. But the group was treated to the full dance and aural phenomena of woodcocks, over and over, until full dark. When woodcocks rise, it’s spring.

These fortunate explorers, under Rogers’ tutelage, were then able to see and hold female and male salamanders, moving from winter quarters to their spring egg-laying waters. The group also encountered a number of frogs, still, yet ready for action, visible beneath skim ice on the vernal ponds. If salamanders have made their historic night-time journeys, it’s spring.

Near Greenwich, where New Jersey’s legendary tea burning taught the British we would no longer submit to the crown’s dictates, we could not leave a female American kestrel flitting in and out of a long line of bare trees. Nearby, a spurt or two of crocus, some dark purple mini-iris and one effusion of daffodils seemed to certify spring.

A flutter of vivid bluebirds under the leafless shrubs of Stow Creek, eagle central, seemed more important, dare I say it, than that site’s legendary eagles.

Last Sunday, I spent significant time in Salem and Cumberland counties, where America’s avian symbol is everywhere right now. We studied eagles on nests, incubating eggs, performing nest exchanges and feeding hatchlings down near the Delaware Bay. Eagle spring comes earlier than that of other species. However, regional naturalists are concerned that many Delaware Valley eagles are not yet on the nest. Timing is everything with the eagle family. Much more delay and it will become too hot for the young with all those insulating feathers. Hard to believe in “hot” right now.

Our incontrovertible spring proof may have been the osprey on its unlikely nest alongside Route 55 near Millville. Ospreys winter separately, returning to the same nest on the same day. When ospreys are reunited, spring is here.

If you need to certify spring, go straight over to Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve, below New Hope, Pa. Return every weekend, until the forest canopy leafs out. Spring’s ephemerals, irrefutable proof of the new season, will be blanketing the ground. In the woods, spicebush shrubs sport tiny chartreuse flowers, almost the color of fireflies. Their twigs, scraped with a fingernail, give off the healing aroma of benzoin, part of this spring herald’s Latin name.

Signage, flower maps and informed volunteers in their Twinleaf shop will lead you to hepatica, twinleaf, bloodroot, spring beauty, trout lily and early saxifrage (rock-breaker). Bowman’s grounds will soon resemble a studio floor, continuously spattered by some errant artist.

In wettest places, an unmistakable spring herald rises — skunk cabbage. This waxy plant emerges like a monk in a cowl, colors swirling from burgundy to bright green. Skunk cabbage can melt ice, as its flower generates 60 degrees of heat. Its rotting meat scent is purportedly irresistible to pollinators. Which, frankly, are what spring is all about.

Above all, remember: Spring is inevitable. Even when trees remain black and brown. Even under skies that Henry David Thoreau described as “stern” back in his laggard spring in the 1800s. For him, as for us, this season must emerge.

Use all your senses. Watch for pollinators, even houseflies. Listen for wood frogs and peepers. Try to scent spicebush and the loamy perfume of awakening earth. Touch the soft green tips of emergent daffodil or narcissus leaves. Even when everything seems brown and grey and black and taupe, know that spring is being born.

Carolyn Foote Edelmann, a poet, naturalist and community relations associate for the Delaware and Raritan Greenway Land Trust, writes and photographs for NJWildBeauty nature blog (njwildbeauty.wordpress.com).

 

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A QUESTION OF VALLEYS

Delaware River image 1 green hills

Delaware River Valley

A QUESTION OF VALLEYS

Throughout most of Robert Macfarlane’s books on old ways and wild places, I’m right there with him. But I part ways with this adventuresome author, –quite literally–, when he speaks of the capacity of valleys to “shock our thoughts.” Macfarlane’s idea of a valley involves “cresting a ridge,” and “significant dropping away of the ground” at his feet.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone 1

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

It surprises me to disagree with this powerful, experienced, eloquent writer. I’ve ‘journeyed’ with him for weeks now, learning not only amazing trails in Scotland and Ireland mostly, but also a string of new vocabulary words to equal my year in Provence. I honor Macfarlane and yet I beg to differ as to the meaning and effect of valleys.

Goat Hill View of Delaware River Valley Brenda Jones

Goat Hill Preserve View of Delaware looking north, by Brenda Jones

The last thing that comes to my mind concerning valleys is edges or crests.
I do rejoice in his emphasis on valleys’ capacity. What would be my valley words?
wide / broad
deep / profound
often wooded,
comforting
welcoming
enveloping
gentling
soothing
often blessed by waterfalls
laved by streams, sometimes invisible, even inaudible.
silence except for birdsong, and/or breezes in treetops
secluded
subtle
places of solitude
rich in grandeur

Materhorn reflected

Materhorn Valley

I feel wrapped by every valley I revisit in memory.

Hopewell Valley Paintking by Joe Kaziemierczyk

Hopewell Valley from St. Michaels Preserve

by Joe Kazimierczyk

Macfarlane’s “edge-dropping-off” phenomenon was the harsh reality in Provence’s Gorge du Verdon. I drove it, –rather well, actually–, but there was no welcoming atmosphere, such as suffuses me in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

Gorges du Verdon Valley 1

Gorge du Verdon, Provence, France

 

Even studded with trees and tumbled with rocks, the valleys I’ve hiked and kayaked have been hushed.

Delaware River Kayaking at Bulls Island

Kayaking the Delaware River North from Bull’s Island

I seek valleys as antidotes to our harsh world, this arena of bustle, noise and harm

Maroon Bells storm

Maroon Bells Valley, which I’ve known only on skis

In the depths of valleys, light trickles in like sunrays pouring from distant cumulus clouds. It’s something about light juxtaposed with darkness, and its effect on me is uplift, otherwise known as hope.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone with rainbow

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone With Rainbow

Valleys cradle life: In certain seasons, in certain valleys, salmon splash and writhe en route to natal sites. Eggs will be released in pristine pools, above glistening pebbles, in soundless eddies of whatever waterway blesses that valley.

Oregon Columbia River Gorge from Cascade Locks

Columbia River Gorge, May 2014, by Carolyn Foote Edelmann

Remoteness and stillness are essential for this recurring miracle. Along their way, creatures from ospreys to eagles to bears, and God knows how many microbes, will have been nourished, while the sapping away of salmon essence nourishes towering trees.

Indian fishing for spring chinook in Oregon Des Chutes and White River trip, May 2014 006

Indian Fishing The Old Ways, Des Chutes River, near Columbia

Oregon 2014 by Carolyn Foote Edelmann

Some valleys, such as the Columbia and its tributaries, belong to the Indians, their ancient ways and skills.

Tying the Net Spring Chinook Run along Oregon Des Chutes and White River trip, May 2014 010

Tying the Net, Des Chutes River

Oregon, 2014 by Carolyn Foote Edelmann

“Valley” has a somewhat different meaning in our Hopewell Valle, our Delaware River Valley. Here, ‘the Valley’ is something to be protected at all costs, both land and water. At D&R Greenway we have worked day and night, since 1989, –protesting, writing, negotiating, funding, pondering, discussing, acting, publicizing, celebrating, even literally building trails and weeding, then planting the natives of the Delaware Valley. We create art and science events to call attention to the urgency of preserving these valleys and their sacred waterways, in perpetuity. We were founded to save waters and lands of the Delaware & Raritan Canal. We’re now in seven counties, including the lands and waters of the sacred Delaware Bay, guarding the watershed, of that essential River, and the sea to which she journeys.

Table View Black Bass Autumn 2010

View of Delaware Valley from Table at Black Bass Inn

by Carolyn Foote Edelmann

In the 1980’s, a broad array of people from New Jersey and Pennsylvania fought and lost the battle to prevent “The Pump” from removing 200 million gallons a day from our tidal river. We did succeed in lowering the amount of water taken daily, to cool a nuclear plant on the Susquehanna. It is hard to hold full gratitude and pride for a partial victory. But the Delaware, creator of this valley, thrives because of those efforts. Some of its reaches have been officially named “wild and scenic.” Some of its reaches welcome the holy shad each April, on their run to their natal territories.

Delaware's Watery Beauty, Spring

Peaceful Delaware River Spring from Bull’s Island

by Carolyn Foote Edelmann

Once, hiking in bathing suits and bare feet, my family climbed down a Jamaican valley, accompanied by a blithe waterfall. At the bottom, we sat for timeless time, in the salt sea, blessed by the freshwater falls. That startling juxtaposition remains rare. That Jamaica valley recedes into mythic time. But the blending of salt and fresh takes place each day in our Delaware, all the way up to Trenton. One spring, a whale demonstrated this reality by coming so far after shad in the spring that it could be seen at the Scenic Observatory on Route 295 adjacent to Trenton.

East Point  The Beckoning   Delaware Bay

Delaware Bay at East Point Light

Fall 2014, by Carolyn Foote Edelmann

The valleys of memory take many forms. For me, none involves “shock”. Macfarlane is a phenomenal writer, and taking virtual hikes with him enriches my days and nights. Valleys are not, however, about edges dropping away below my feet. Valleys are refuge; valleys are home.

Materhorn Valley image evening

How the Materhorn Valley Shelters at Night

when you’re staying/skiing in Zermatt

Long ago, I fell in love with Robert Frost’s description of woods as “lovely, dark and deep.” Valleys are the true possessors of that description.